Darfur rebels release 18 prisoners: Red Cross

Sudanese soldiers guard the surrounding area of the UNMIS compound in el-Fasher, the administrative capital of North Darfur on September 5, 2007 (AFP Photo/Don Emmert) (AFP/File)

Khartoum (AFP) - Rebels in Sudan's conflict-hit Darfur region have released 18 people they were holding prisoner, the International Committee for the Red Cross said on Thursday.

The ICRC said it "assisted in the transfer of 13 Sudanese Armed Forces personnel, three policemen and two civilians released by the Sudan Liberation Army–Abdul Wahid," a Darfur-based rebel group.

An initial statement said all 18 were armed forces personnel.

The detainees were handed over to Sudanese authorities in South Darfur state capital Nyala on Wednesday and Thursday, the ICRC said.

The SLA-Abdul Wahid is one of the groups that has been battling the government since 2003, when mostly black rebels launched a campaign against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government, saying they were being marginalised.

It is rare for the armed groups to release prisoners but the Red Cross has mediated releases in the past.

"After the handover, the ICRC team assisted the released individuals in contacting their families, who were very relieved to hear news of them," ICRC chief Eloi Fillion said in a statement.

The ICRC gave no further details, and the military could not be reached for comment.

The United Nations says 300,000 people have been killed in the western region since 2003, and another 2.5 million forced to flee their homes.

President Omar al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide charges related to the conflict.

The situation in Darfur has deteriorated in recent years because of a spike in criminality and inter-tribal disputes over land and resources in parts of the region.